When you only need to carry the barest of travel essentials or pack a few items for a short walk, you can’t beat a daypack for squeezing everything into 30 litres or less. Here are our pick of the best
The test: At the budget end of the scale comes this unisex offering from Sprayway.
A traditional-looking rucksack, it features a lid, minus a pocket, as well as a zipped front pouch, two wand pockets, a rain cover and attachments for walking poles, if needed. Inside the main compartment is a sleeve for a hydration pack (alternative to a water bottle), though there is no outlet for this other than the main opening.
The back system is made up of three padded and vented panels, while the shoulder straps are wide, padded and also vented. There is a hip strap, rather than a belt, but that helps to keep the weight down to an impressively low 600g (the joint third-lightest on test).
The verdict: A good basic pack with a lid, and at a competitive price, though some may want to pay a little more for some more extras.
The test: Tipping the scales at the same weight as the Sprayway model (600g), this unisex pack has no lid but ample extras.
As well as wand pockets, a zipped front pouch and a walking pole holder, it offers a zipped and padded top pocket for sunglasses and a roll-away reflective panel to secure across the front for when walking at night.
It also has a flashlight holder, plus a zipped and padded pocket (ideal for a tablet) hidden on the side. Inside, there’s a pouch for a hydration system (plus outlet), while a second pouch has an organiser. The back has two padded mesh panels, and the shoulder straps are padded and vented. The only downside is the lack of a hip belt, but, for its size, you may not need one.
The verdict: Some thoughtful extras for a little more cash – and with a good weight and price – though still missing those high-end features.
The test: Veering towards the heavier end of the scale (at 900g it’s the third-heaviest on test), security is a big feature on this offering from Lifeventure.
For a start, it’s clearly designed with travellers in mind, and boasts a zipped pouch on the back with RFID protection (to stop anyone scanning your passport or credit cards).
There’s no lid but there are two additional front pockets – one with an organiser – and a padded compartment big enough for a laptop (with a sleeve inside to fit a tablet).
Sadly, there are no wand pockets but the main zipped section is a good size. The back features two padded mesh panels and padded and vented shoulder straps. There is no hip belt or strap, though.
The verdict: More hand luggage than rucksack (due to its weight), but its ample laptop space and security features will appeal to travellers.
The test: More cash gets you a competitive weight (700g, fourth-lightest on test), plus a few features that make this pack versatile for travelling and hiking.
Montane’s unisex offering lacks a lid proper but does have a zipped pocket on top that the rucksack itself can be stuffed into, for ease of travel. There are also two wand pockets on the side, plus compression straps and a pole attachment system.
Inside is a pouch for a hydration pack (with outlet) and a zipped pocket useful for documents.
The back is quite rigid, courtesy of a foam panel you can remove and use as a sit mat; there are also two padded and vented panels, plus padded and vented shoulder straps and a hip belt with two zipped pockets.
The verdict: A good weight and ample features make this pack ideal for travel and hiking, plus it packs handily away – all at a reasonable price.
The test: Battling at the budget end is this unisex pack from OEX, Go Outdoors’ own brand.
It doesn’t feature a lid per se, but does have a zipped top pocket for easy-to-reach items. The sides feature wand pockets and compression straps; there’s a front zipped pocket and a rain cover.
Inside, the large main compartment contains a pouch for a hydration system (with outlet), while under the ‘lid’ is another mesh pocket . The back is quite rigid and features four padded mesh panels; the shoulder straps are also padded and vented, plus there is a proper padded hip belt with two zipped pockets.
The main downside? The weight. At 1.1kg (on test) it’s the heaviest here by a way.
The verdict: Some fine features and a clever design for a decent price, though you do tend to pay for it with the heavier weight.
The test: Coming in at just 450g (second lightest on test), you immediately notice that there’s no real back structure on this unisex pack. You could easily pack it down and take it in your luggage.
It’s got a lid (with zipped top pocket), though no pockets on the outside. Instead, a system of cords allows you to attach gear.
There are two wand pockets and reflective elements, though. Inside, there’s just one main compartment (not hydration compatible), and despite its pared-down style, the back is both padded and vented for comfort, while the shoulder straps are vented and padded, too.
There is a hip strap rather than belt, which is not padded, though, given the weight, you likely won’t need it to be.
The verdict: A super-light, pared-down pack that’s easy to store in your larger luggage and useful to take with you as a just-in-case option.
The test: Pay more and you head into ‘proper’ rucksack territory.
With both female (Crea) and male (Creon) versions (the men’s is slightly larger), this pack has a heavy-duty back system – increasing air-flow to stop you getting sweaty – and comfy padding.
The shoulder straps and hip belt are well designed and both padded and vented, while it also has a proper lid (with zip pocket), a front zip pocket, pole attachment and rain cover.
Sadly, there are no compression straps, but the main compartment is big and has an outlet for a hydration pack (though no pouch to hold it).
It does lose points on the weight, though (1.05kg; second-heaviest on test).
The verdict: A well-made traditional rucksack with a good back system for hiking, but its weight and higher price may be a drawback for some.
The test: Known for making the lightest tent on Earth, UK-based Terra Nova also waves its wand at rucksacks, creating this 400g unisex number (lightest on test).
The fabric is a hard-wearing ripstop, and, as well as a pair of wand pockets, there are also two front pouches (plus a discreet zipped pocket) that, courtesy of its elasticated drawcords, are ideal for stashing extra gear.
Inside is a large, full-length zipped compartment (there’s no lid) that is hydration pack compatible.
The back system is not rigid but has three padded and vented panels; the shoulder straps are also padded and vented (with a pair of pouches), as is the hip belt, which boasts two zipped pockets with water-resistant zips.
The verdict: An array of features given the super-light weight. It will pack down easily to take with you on your travels, though you do pay for it.
We asked gear manufacturers to submit rucksacks less than 30L in capacity that they felt were most suitable for travellers, being versatile enough to use as flight hand luggage on short trips as well as functioning as a daypack on short walking trails. From the 20 we were sent, our editor, Phoebe Smith, took them out on the road to see which performed best. The six here are all ‘Wanderlust Approved’, with both a Value Buy and Best Buy indicated.
Shoulder straps & hip belts
All daypacks should offer shoulder straps; look for padding with some kind of ventilation, so it’s comfortable and doesn’t get too sweaty. But packs under 30L don’t always offer hip belts. If you are going to use the bag for walking, it’s a useful addition and you should look for ones that do – again, padded and ventilated. If you are using it occasionally, either around town or for travel, opt for one without and save on weight.
Many daypacks will have some kind of ventilated back ‘system’, using sculpted foam and mesh panels or a curved static frame that holds the pack away from your body so that air can circulate and you don’t get sweaty. But, for occasional use – carrying a few items – you may decide to go without to save on weight.
Wand pockets & compression straps
Handy for storing small items, such as a waterbottle, small tripod or even a selfie stick – always a useful feature.
At this size point, not many models will have lids. The advantage of having one is that they usually have a lid pocket – handy for quick-to-reach items. Zip openings are quicker to get into but are harder to stuff to full capacity.
It’s a case of personal preference as to how many pockets you think you’ll need. Some bags keep it simple with just one or two – or even none – others offer multiple options. Remember that all zips will leak in heavy rain and that each pocket could be a security risk in certain parts of the world.
Whereas some packs are ‘unisex’, others actually offer specific women’s versions. They are certainly worth trying, as they are cut with a female shape in mind.
Young couple hiking in the countryside (Dreamstime)